At the ProJo: Rumblings of Reform

The Providence Journal's latest round of buyouts and layoffs has prompted some soul searching among the paper's rank-and-file - and a push to reform one of Rhode Island's most important institutions.

A couple of months ago, when word of the impending job cuts first surfaced, a group of employees sent a letter to publisher Howard Sutton and acting executive editor Karen Bordeleau offering to help the paper find a way forward.

"This is my home paper," says reporter Alisha Pina, who spearheaded the effort. "I'm from Rhode Island and I don't want to see it go."

Management, by all accounts, was open to the overture. Pina and another reporter I spoke to, Felice Freyer, praised Bordeleau for embracing the push.

And since the initial letter, the list of suggestions from newsroom and advertising staff has grown from a handful to four pages worth. Pina and Freyer were reluctant to discuss specific ideas that might not ever come to fruition. But Freyer said there were several suggestions for improving the newspaper's web site.

The latest iteration of the site, launched last winter, erects what is known as a "hard paywall" that only allows paying customers access to the bulk of the paper's journalism. Papers like the New York Times and the Boston Globe have embraced more porous paywalls that allow readers to share links on social media and, in the case of the Times, view a certain number of articles per month for free.

This leakier paywall seems to be the most promising model in the industry. But the ProJo web site has other issues, too. Its central feature is a glorified pdf of the print product, which seems retrograde. And its overall design is clunky.

It's unclear if management has an appetite for a significant change in the paper's on-line presence; Bordeleau did not return a call for comment this afternoon. And with the holidays approaching, the paper is not expected to move on any ideas - web-related, or otherwise - until next year.

But the paper is, at least, talking change.

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